With all of the stories of a potential Carlos Beltran signing, something caught my eye.  The Indians didn’t have the payroll flexibility to sign Beltran, and there were theories that they’d have to dump salary from another part of the roster in order to free up money for a Beltran contract.  One option suggested was to back load the contract, since the Indians had a number of contracts coming off the books after 2012.  I decided to look at the contract status of the majority of the players on the Tribe and I realized something – *nobody* is signed beyond 2012.

Is it just that the Cleveland Indians leadership and the Mayans were onto something the rest of us missed about 2012 being the end of the world, or is something else going on here?

I was talking about the lack of contracts with my husband the other day and he said, “And you’re surprised?  The Indians are cheap.”  While that may be true, having absolutely nobody under contract doesn’t necessarily translate into a financial savings.  With the Indians’ young core of players, everybody is under team control for a number of years; several players aren’t even eligible for arbitration yet.  Even though the Indians tend to let young stars walk once they hit free agency, the Tribe is notorious for signing young players to contracts that buy out their arbitration years, and sometimes even a year or two of free agency.  The reason for that is that it usually translates into a savings overall and it gives the team a certain degree of certainty each season.  When you negotiate year-to-year with players (as the Indians are doing this off-season), you risk your budget making a large, almost unexpected jump.  The Indians’ payroll may jump as much as $20 million this off-season, just based on raises due to players through arbitration.  While there is a risk involved with signing a young player to a multi-year deal (it didn’t pay off for players like Jaret Wright or Fausto Carmona), it still allows you to have an idea of your team budget over the next few years.  You can make long term plans with free agents (even mediocre free agents) when you have a general idea of what your budget will look like in 2013, 2014, etc.  These multi-year deals for young players under team control is one of the reasons that the Indians haven’t gone to arbitration with a player since 1991.

Perhaps the Indians have decided that they could save money by going year-to-year with players (although I find that doubtful).  Perhaps they’re tired of getting stuck with players like Jaret Wright or Fausto Carmona; players that didn’t quite live up to their early promise and were now overpaid.  (Although I think that the times they saved money on those types of deals balances out the bad deals.)  Or this could be something completely different…there are theories that this level of flexibility (and lack of contracts) is the mark of a team that is “on the market,” so to speak.  Potential buyers would want a “blank slate,” and it would make the team more enticing.  I personally think the sale of the team is highly unlikely, but I guess anything is possible.  Although even if the Indians were sold, there’s no evidence that a new owner would open their wallets any more than the current situation.

The Indians are supposedly still on board for other free agents – Casey Kotchman, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena are the names most typically mentioned.  Just remember: if any of those players are signed to a two-year deal, that would suddenly become the longest contract held by an Indians player entering the 2012 season.

Here’s a breakdown of the contract situation for much of the team:

Seven players the Indians must negotiate with this off-season:

Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Jack Hannahan, Justin Masterson, Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, and Joe Smith. (Cabrera, Choo, R. Perez and Smith are free agents as of 2014; Hannahan, Masterson and C. Perez as of 2015)

Arbitration eligible in 2013; free agent as of 2016:

Shelley Duncan, Matt LaPorta, Lou Marson and Tony Sipp.

Arbitration eligible in 2014; free agent as of 2017:

Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Frank Herrmann,Vinnie Pestano, Carlos Santana, and Josh Tomlin.

Pre-arbitration eligible:

Ezequiel Carrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis


Fausto Carmona – 1 year deal for 2012 (picked up 2012 option); team options for 2013 and 2014.

Travis Hafner – Signed through 2012; team option for 2013.

Ubaldo Jimenez – Signed through 2012; team options for 2013 and 2014.

Grady Sizemore – 1 year deal for 2012.


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